Americaâ€™s frontline healthcare workers have rightly been called our countryâ€™s real superheroes. But the truth is that the US healthcare system is falling far short in its obligation to protect these essential workers in the face of the worst global pandemic in more than a century.
A Failure to Protect
It should perhaps come as no surprise that frontline healthcare workers are at extreme risk for contracting communicable illnesses, particularly when we are dealing with a pathogen as infectious as COVID-19. And with a new flu season looming in the northern hemisphere, the increased influenza risk incurred by nurses and other frontline healthcare workers only serves to amplify the threat.
Worse, more than eight months after the advent of the virus, healthcare workers are still facing a significant shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). This lack of access to adequate PPE may well be the single most significant source of danger for doctors and nurses working with COVID patients.
When infected persons are asymptomatic, for example, the impulse to relax PPE standards by rationing equipment may well lead to potentially preventable disease transmission.
The Significance of Training
Because COVID-19 is a novel virus, there is still much about the disease that is unknown. Safety, prevention, and treatment guidelines continue to evolve. Healthcare systems, however, must be highly proactive in ensuring that frontline healthcare workers are up to date on the latest disease information and safety protocols.
This must include rigorous training in pre-appointment patient screening, treatment room sanitation, and risk mitigation and infection containment processes.
Job Losses and Furloughs
Perhaps one of the less-discussed but potentially most harmful risks facing todayâ€™s frontline workers is the risk of job losses and furloughs. Current research suggests that system mismanagement is pervasive across the US healthcare system, resulting in tens of thousands of job cuts, despite billions of dollars being allocated to US hospitals and healthcare systems from the emergency CARES act.
Thus, Americaâ€™s frontline workers are not only confronted today by the threat of the virus, but they are also faced with the possibility of layoffs, furloughs, and termination. In the wake of a national crisis not only to public health but also to the economy, this may well leave frontline workers facing the loss of not just their health but also their income, their home, and their security.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect across the US, but few people have been more affected than Americaâ€™s frontline healthcare workers. The risk of infection for these workers is particularly great, amplified by an ongoing shortage of PPE.
In addition, due to the novelty of the virus, healthcare providers may still be uninformed on best practices in risk mitigation and disease prevention. Efforts to ensure up-to-date training and support must be made to ensure that workers are prepared to protect themselves, their families, and their patients. Perhaps worst of all, the healthcare system is challenged with massive layoffs, putting frontline workersâ€™ jobs and livelihoods at risk.
This means it is incumbent on the public whom these workers care for to help care for and protect them in return. If you are able, donate to your local organizations that are now providing equipment, financial assistance, and other resources to frontline workers. If you own a business, consider offering these heroes freebies and discounts, special operating hours, or other perks to show your appreciation and offer support.
Help relieve the burden on these healthcare workers by always remaining vigilant about your own health and the health of your community, adhering to public health guidelines to help prevent the spread. Above all, reach out to your local, state, and government officials to demand they make caring for these care providers priority number one, which must include not only financial support but also employment protection and access to quality healthcare, child and elder care, and other resources they may need to weather this crisis.
After all, our frontline workers are saving lives day in and day out. The least we can do is anything and everything we can to return the favor.
About the Author: Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business and technology topics are his favorite. When he isnâ€™t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.